Saturday, June 27, 2015

Innocence Lost Foundation - Fazineh Keita



Guest Article by Ava Vanderstarren

(Note: This is part two in a series on Innocence Lost Foundation founders Ava Vanderstarren and Fazineh Keita. To read part one on Ava - click HERE)

Fazineh Keita is truly an amazing individual. When you are near him you can't help but feel his passionate energy. It's infectious! He is a writer, actor, musician and activist. He is also a support worker with drug addicts in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver.

Growing up in Sierra Leone, West Africa, Fazineh was kidnapped by the rebel fighting group, the RUF (Revolutionary United Front), and fought as a child soldier during their civil war. After escaping from the RUF, he joined the country's army and fought on and off throughout his childhood and teenage years until the war ended.

Fazineh believes that because he survived his experiences, he has a purpose in this world - to bring about peace and healing. After the war he released a music album in his country that brought about change in the government system and encouraged people to go out and vote in their newly formed Democratic system. The hit song was "Political Paddy Dem." He moved to Canada in 2007 and lived first in Alberta, and then moved to British Columbia to attend the Vancouver Film School (VFS).

I had the privilege of meeting Fazineh and bringing him into my life in 2011 when we were in the acting program at VFS. He is the inspiration for our non-profit "Innocence Lost Foundation".

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Where were you born? where did you grow up? What were you like as a child/teen?

I was born in Kabala, northern Sierra Leone.  When I was five years old, my mom was struggling to make ends meet. She got me to go live with my uncle in the diamond mining town of Tongo Field which was on the other end of the country. My uncle, a wealthy diamond dealer paid for my schooling and took care of me.

When I was with my mom, I was troublesome. She used to let me get away with stuff. I was crazy but really vibrant and playful. I ran around all day. Sometimes my friends and I would steal mangoes and oranges and make a run for it. When we got caught, the owners would either give us more mangoes, trash us or take us to our parents and tell them what we did. 


When I started living with my uncle, I became different. He was very strict and had harsh disciplinary methods. I was mostly scared of him. He had a TV, VHS and a generator. There wasn’t electricity in the town and he was the only one who owned a generator for the longest time. He loved watching movies and that’s how I was introduced to movies. There were moments when I missed my mom and sisters a lot. I felt alone and abandoned. Then I got troublesome again

My happiest moments were when I was alone imagining myself as Rambo. In my imagination I was all grown up with huge muscles. I would run around shooting imaginary bad guys with imaginary guns. It was a way of escaping my reality. When I got caught up in the war, I became really angry. As I grew up life became more somber. I was confused and lost. I couldn't understand the war. You know, like why?


Please tell us about your experiences and anything you'd like to share about your time in the R.U.F or Army.

Charles Taylor is the name of the rebel leader that started the war in Liberia. He sponsored and helped Corporal Foday Sankoh an ex-Sierra Leonean soldier to invade Sierra Leone in 1991. Foday Sankoh’s group was called R.U.F.-  Revolutionary United Front. The RUF attacked Tongo Field when I was about eight years old. I was kidnapped by the RUF. They taught us how to shoot, dismantle and clean an AK47 and that was that. 

I escaped the RUF after three month and went back to Tongo Field. My uncle had left for Kenema where he was living with his family. A friend of mine, Bobson, who was already a soldier took me with him to the military head quarters in Topkumbu Buima. I volunteered as a recruit. I was with them for a year, then I couldn’t do it anymore so I went AWOL to Kenema and lived with my uncle for a bit. I didn't tell anyone that I was in the army, fearing revenge attacks, and I was partly ashamed of it. I thought my family would have never looked at me the same. My family was religious, peaceful and remained neutral in the war. They hated it.





















My experience as a fighter in the war wasn't continuous. I'd be a school kid for a while, then get caught up in the war and join whichever side I thought had the upper hand. My objective was to stay alive. Unfortunately in wars, most casualties are civilians. I wasn't going to die in that war; I thought it was stupid. We were all Sierra Leoneans.  In battle I always looked for that decisive moment when your side starts loosing and I would sneak away. 

I moved around a lot, from one end of the country to the next. Fortunately I was always able to stumble upon a family that would take me in for a bit, like the Kamara family in Kissy Mess-mess. I had a long break from the war in my early teens when I was living in Freetown. My cousin Salmata took me in and enrolled me at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School which I attended for a year. I dropped out and worked for Natco, a biscuit and candy factory. Then the war found me again in January 1999. That was the last time I took part in it and it was the only time that it was personal.

Please share something about your personal life during this time.

My best friend in Kissy, Abu, was killed by Nigerian peace keepers. They thought he was a rebel because they found a bullet shell in his pocket. Abu was a good kid. He was kind and he preached peace all day. He hated the war. It was just a bullet shell he had found somewhere. So the morning the rebels attacked Freetown in January 1999, my first re-action was to get on board. I knew where the Nigerian peacekeepers were. After that I was done. I told my aunty to take me with her to Guinea.

Can you remember any stories from that time that highlight you would take this career path and found a charity?

There wasn't a particular story. It was just the inhumane stuff people do in war, you know. I used to pray that if I survived I would spend my life advocating peace in the world. I didn't know how I would do that but I thought somehow I had to.

How did you meet your co-founder Ava Vanderstarren and how did the idea to found Innocence Lost develop?

I met Ava at Vancouver Film School. We were taking the same program, I was one term ahead of her though so I was her senior. In some acting classes, I had to face my past in ways that I never dared before. It was painful, I was very vulnerable and mostly angry. She wasn't scared of me at all. She showed up and tried to help. I didn't want that. The thing with pain is when we live with it for a long time it is part of us and somehow we can be also scared of letting go.

Now I'm a lot happier and I can talk about stuff if I try. We are both passionate about humanitarian efforts. I work in the Downtown Eastside as a support worker and she would volunteer in some female and humanitarian causes around town. I never thought I was going to start a foundation at this time. I wanted to pursue my film career for a few years first. Then she took part in the Miss BC Beauty Pageant. Her platform was to rehabilitate child soldiers. Next thing you know she won and then it was just like, "I guess we have to start our own foundation." We could have volunteered for another foundation or charity, but I have been failed in many ways by NGOs (Non-governmental organizations). We wanted to create something new and transparent. 



What is the goal of this charity organization - now, 1 year, 5 years?

We will be empowering the young, spreading awareness at a grand scale. We will be building and running rehabilitation centres around the world and helping bring healing to communities after war.

Talk about some of the steps you've had to go through to establish Innocence Lost and to begin to raise funds?

A lot of paper work, research, school outreach. We will be starting major fundraising events pretty soon.

Interview on Novus TV

What has proven most challenging? 

Talking about the past. Other than that, things have turned out to be pretty easy. We are lucky to have found a lot of good people who are willing to work with us and help us along the way.

Can you share a high moment in this journey - something unexpected?

The first time we went to give a speech in Chilliwack at GW Graham Middle Secondary School, I thought the kids wouldn’t be interested in what was happening in the world with child soldiers. But then I found out that they were actually learning a lot about it and they had some great questions. They were also very interested in doing something for the common good of mankind. That was mind blowing and very inspirational. From then on it has been a smooth sail.

What are the many ways readers can support this charity?

Look up us up online on our website where it covers some of the ways you can become involved (www.innocencelostfoundation.com) and be sure to follow us on our Social Media sites - Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/InnocenceLostFoundation?fref=ts), Twitter (@Foundation_IL) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/innocencelostfoundation/). Come to a meeting and learn about the different ways you can help. We like our volunteers or future members to be creative and open. We want to do this together as a family, a team. We are open to new ideas and we need help in the ideas we already have on the go.



Anything else you would like to share that I didn't think to ask?

It takes a lot to change the world but if everyone one of us is doing the little we can it would be more than enough to change the world.

On October 10th we will be having a music benefit concert called "Trading a Gun for a Guitar" at St. James Community Square. Come see the show!

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